Archie Rand’s Bold, Colorful, Terrifying Illustrations of the 613 Mitzvahs


The painter and muralist Archie Rand, as the poet John Ashbery once said, has “the courage to be hybrid.” His richly colored, always stirring works of visual art — from his inaugural Jazz Paintings to the below comic strip renderings of the 613 mitzvahs — have folded themselves enthusiastically into American life; his work, as it happens, is now placed in more than 400 public collections, including the Met, MoMA, and the Whitney, and he counts among his fans a number of poets, writers, and artists, including Art Spiegelman, Ang Lee, and Cynthia Ozick.

This month, Penguin releases Rand’s collection of illustrations of the 613 mitzvahs (or commandments) from the Torah. The experience of the book is something like seeing a cinema-sized version of ancient wisdom transmuted through a comic (and then blown up again) — that is to say that it is courageously hybrid. Or, as Ashbery (again) describes it: “The beauty, terror, and fun are all there in one magic, mesmerizing wall of colored shapes and visual oratory.” Here are just five of the 613.